William Hogarth and his neighbours in a Chiswick churchyard
One suspects that William Hogarth would chuckle bitterly at the irony – his home in Chiswick, once his peaceful country retreat, now backs onto a hellishly busy road and a concrete road junction named the “Hogarth Roundabout”.
It’s an incongruous backdrop to the quiet elegance of Hogarth’s house, which today is home to a lovely museum about the great artist’s life. Skilled as he was at portraying the vices, double standards and corruption of Georgian London, Hogarth would undoubtedly have found something to lampoon about the concrete hell of the modern, traffic-choked city. (Incidentally, cartoonist Martin Rowson did produce a homage to Hogarth using the roundabout as a centrepiece.)
The Hogarth Roundabout, by Patche99z on Wikimedia Commons
However, just south of the Hogarth Roundabout the scene changes dramatically. The concrete gives way to a cluster of pretty Georgian houses, and the historic brewery of Fuller, Smith and Turner. It is against this rather quaint backdrop that you’ll find Hogarth’s eternal resting place, in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Chiswick.
His father was imprisoned for debt. After beginning an apprenticeship as an engraver, Hogarth also turned his hand to painting and book illustrations. He produced many satirical images, most famously Gin Lane and Beer Street, and the “moral works” such as The Rake’s Progress and Marriage a-la-mode. His sharp eye for the ridiculous, the grotesque and the cruel made him famous and his images are those which we associate most closely with Georgian London even today.
William Hogarth, “Gin Lane”, 1750 (image from Wikimedia Commons)
William Hogarth, “The Painter and his Pug”, 1745 (image from Wikimedia Commons)
But enough of his life, I hear you say. This is Cemetery Club, after all. So we will return to Hogarth’s final resting place, beneath a handsome memorial that befits a famous artist. Look a little closer at the tombstone, and you’ll find symbols relating to Hogarth’s life – the artist’s palette and paintbrushes, the oak leaves which often symbolise endurance and long life (Hogarth lived to be 66, not a bad innings at the time), the book which can be interpreted as showing someone’s accomplishments in life, and the mask which symbolises drama. The laurel wreath represents the “evergreen” memory of the deceased.
Farewell great Painter of Mankind Who reach’d the noblest point of Art Whose pictur’d Morals charm the Mind And through the Eye correct the Heart. If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay, If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear: If neither move thee, turn away, For Hogarth’s honour’d dust lies here.
View from Hogarth’s tomb in 1823 (source)
Hogarth’s tomb was restored in 2010. The stone was cleaned and the worn inscriptions were renewed, allowing visitors to the grave to once again be able to read Garrick’s tribute to his illustrious friend. An information panel was also installed nearby with details of Hogarth’s life and work.
Wright’s tomb showcases some symbols commonly seen on 18th Century tombstones. Cherubs were an extremely popular motif in this period, and can be seen in a great deal of art and decoration as well as gravestones.
The 19th Century, on the other hand, saw the legal emancipation of Catholics, and the emergence of the Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church, which embraced many ideas inspired by Catholic symbolism and rites. The Gothic revival was also inspired by this resurgence in Catholic imagery and ideas, and many Victorian graves reflect this with angels, pinnacles, and crosses, as well as depictions of Christ and the Lamb of God.
St Nicholas’ Churchyard and Chiswick Old Cemetery are open to visitors every day during daylight hours.